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Reviews Written by
J. S. Hardman "Consultant software developer (contractor)" (Near London, UK)

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Leiths How to Cook (Leiths School/Food & Wine)
Leiths How to Cook (Leiths School/Food & Wine)
by Leiths School of Food and Wine
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for the beginner, good for the experienced, 24 Aug. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
When I am cooking, working from a typical cookbook (not this one), conversations tend to go along the lines of:

Me: "The cookbook says, "Cook potatoes until done. How do I know when they are done"
My Wife: "Put a fork in them"
Me: "And?"
My Wife: "Does the fork go in easily?"
Me: "How easily is easily?"

You get the idea. For me, cookbooks need to use precise language, not woolly language that assumes you were brought up in a family who, for generation after generation, have loved cooking and passed the knowledge from one generation to the next.

I also like cookbooks with lots of pictures, so that I can see what I like the look of, and so that I can see what it should turn out like. And I like a range of recipes from the really simple, to something that looks like it came from a Masterchef final. The odd unusual ingredient is fine too - there are things used in this cookbook that we couldn't get in our local town, but we're between two cities, either of which can source pretty much anything.

At the other extreme, my wife uses cookbooks as a general guide, adapting things here, tweaking things there. She doesn't need all the technique detail, but again likes a picture and likes a clear list of ingredients (that she might then adjust).

So, to find a cookbook that works for us both is not a common occurrence. But, with "Leiths' How to Cook" we have found that book. This mighty tome (I hate to think what it weighs) is clearly presented, full of full colour pictures, not just of the end results, but also showing techniques and intermediate steps (e.g. 12 pictures to show how to fillet a flat fish). The ingredients are clearly presented, and the steps are given in full, glorious, detail, so that I can follow them without having to ask a million questions. The spine of this hardback book has been done so that the book can be left open on a flat surface, with the two opposite pages both flat. The recipes are also laid out so that for most (all?) it isn't necessary to turn a page with hands covered in flour etc.

A brilliant cookbook, with appetising recipes that are presented for use, no matter what level of previous cooking experience the reader has. Highly recommended.

Lean from the Trenches: Managing Large-Scale Projects with Kanban
Lean from the Trenches: Managing Large-Scale Projects with Kanban
by Henrik Kniberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.14

5.0 out of 5 stars One of those books that everybody on a project should read, 24 Aug. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having been a contractor for many years prior to my current position, I have experienced working practices at different client sites that have varied from pure waterfall to mostly Agile. In my current position, I am working as part of a distributed team (UK, USA, Australia) using a number of Agile practices, including both Scrum and Kanban.

With that background, I found "Lean from the Trenches: Managing Large-Scale Projects with Kanban" an interesting and useful read. It spurred me on to do some things that fall within my remit (e.g. highlighting the "top 5 recurring bugs"), and it reminded me to draw up some cause-effect diagrams (a technique I have used intermittently for years but without knowing it had a name). It also covered things such as the stable-trunk pattern, the importance of a clear definition of Done (or "ready for system test"), and regular process-improvement meetings (retrospectives) that seem so obvious, but which many teams do not implement. However, for me, the key thing that I gained from this book was the importance of a "work in progress" limit at each point on the project board. One hazard of having experience of working at every point in the SDLC is that so many people call on you to do things, which without a "work in progress" limit eventually becomes unsustainable. Again, this is something I had worked out for myself already, but the idea of formalising a "work in progress" limit across the project board is definitely one of those "of course, why didn't I think of that?" moments.

Whilst the emphasis is on Kanban, this book does talk about Scrum, XP etc. I wonder if it's a book that is more useful if you have already been working in a Lean/Agile environment for a while, but I think it would be useful even if you haven't. For those who are new to Lean/Agile, it may be worth reading Part II before Part I, in order to understand the techniques before seeing how they are used in practice.

Relatively short (always good), easy to read, and very useful. Highly recommended.

Case Logic Backpack for 15.6 inch Laptop
Case Logic Backpack for 15.6 inch Laptop
Price: £42.73

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Professional looking, but not as practical as some other backpacks, 18 Aug. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Over the years I have tried/used many different backpacks and rucksacks, using different ones for different purposes or in different scenarios. When it comes to carrying a laptop etc, or carrying office type stuff, my preference has been to use either the `Swissgear GA-7301-14F00 Hudson 15.4 Inch Laptop Backpack' or the `Targus TCG650 Metro Notebook Backpack 15.4"'. Both have huge capacity, lots of sections, flexibility, the ability to stand upright, and good protection.

So, the question is, does this `Case Logic Backpack for 15.6 inch Laptop' fill a purpose/scenario that either of those other two does not, particularly when they are similarly priced?

Well, even when fully loaded, this Case Logic Backpack looks more professional, with sleek lines, black colouring etc. It's reasonably comfortable on your back too, with ventilation channels to keep your back dry. It will also fit into most overhead luggage racks/bins as well. And it has a 25 year quality guarantee.

On the downside, this Case Logic Backpack does not stand upright, which I find really annoying. Every time I put it on the floor, the backpack topples over. The grab handle on top is too small, particularly for anybody with large hands. The individual storage areas are not thought through. If used in the way that is shown on the attached details, I would quickly lose my drinking container(s) as they would fall out when the backpack topples over. My favourite pens are too long to sit securely in the place shown for those. There are no velcro straps to hold things in place, so other bits and pieces would not stay in place long. I certainly wouldn't put my cables where shown on the details, as they would soon fall out during use. I also wouldn't put my smartphone in the pocket intended for that - in the crush on the London Underground it would get stolen within days.

So, a professional looking backpack, but one that really does not compete on practicality with similarly priced offerings from Targus and Swissgear. I might use this one when travelling on trains that I know have ridiculously small luggage racks (e.g. Southern commuter services), on flights just for my carry-on stuff, or when going to meetings/conferences where my other backpacks would look out of place, but otherwise I'll be sticking with Targus and Swissgear.

Miracle-Gro 1kg Flower Magic Flower Seeds with Feed and Coir Mix Jug (Multi-coloured)
Miracle-Gro 1kg Flower Magic Flower Seeds with Feed and Coir Mix Jug (Multi-coloured)
Price: £5.93

4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty much filled a bed with flowers for the summer, 17 Aug. 2013
Having moved where I grow my vegetables, I had an area about 4m x 2.5m to fill. I bought a mix of Hebes which I planted across that area. However, as there was a lot of bare soil in between, I thought I'd try one of these Miracle-Gro jugs, containing a mix of flower seeds, feed and coir. I sprinkled it between the Hebes, then pretty much left it. I think I watered it twice, but that was it. Weeding was a bit problematic, as I had no idea what the things in this jug would look like when they were starting off. However, after a few weeks, the first flowers appeared, and since then more have kept on appearing. It hasn't been perfect, as there are a few gaps, but for the most part, the bed is full of various flowers and looks better than it has at any point in the last 10 years. I haven't checked yet, but I hope these are things that come up year after year. I will certainly be buying another of these jugs next year, if not two of them, to ensure that the gaps are filled.

The question in my mind though, is would it have been just as effective (and cheaper) to get a packet of mixed seeds, rather than the jug with feed etc. I don't know. But for a bed pretty much full of flowers for the entire summer (so far), all for less than a tenner, I'm not complaining.

Works for me.

Pro Hula Hoops: Travel Weighted Hula Hoop - Hula Hoops For Exercise, Dance & Fitness! (39'-660g) NO Instructions Needed! (Black/UV Pink)
Pro Hula Hoops: Travel Weighted Hula Hoop - Hula Hoops For Exercise, Dance & Fitness! (39'-660g) NO Instructions Needed! (Black/UV Pink)
Offered by Flames N Games Ltd-Specialist Juggling Store
Price: £12.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for strengthening core muscles and improving flexibility, 17 Aug. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having been sat in a desk job for a while, with not enough exercise, the time finally came when I decided my weight was heading the wrong way. Using the FitnessPal app (free and brilliant) on my phone, a cross-trainer pointing at the TV, and a Lovefilm subscription (so that I had something to distract me whilst on the cross-trainer), soon got the weight heading the right direction again and multiple muscles in much better shape than they were. However, given my dislike for abdominal exercises, getting my core muscles into shape was more problematic, until I bought one of these Pro Hula Hoops on the recommendation of a friend. Having never hooped before, it didn't take long to get the hang of it, and it's another exercise you can do in front of the TV (as long as you have space). Typically, I do 15 or 30 minutes on high-resistance on the cross-trainer, then do some weights, then hoop until I either drop the hoop or until whatever I am watching reaches the end or a suitable break point. Then I start all over again (hooping in the opposite direction at the end of the next set). Typically doing 1.5 hours like that, a few times each week, I have lost 24 pounds in weight and 6 inches off my waist in 6 months (whilst still eating well), whilst strengthening muscles and improving flexibility. I'm now in good enough shape that I'm going back to heavy forestry work as a conservation volunteer, which pre-hooping my poor core muscles made slightly precarious.

Note that this weighted hoop does cause some bruising initially, but that lessens over time (I haven't worked out if that is through improved technique, or whether the body just copes better).

Highly recommended (for both sexes!).

Faithfull DIGBAR72 Digging Bar 72 x 1 Inch 17 lb
Faithfull DIGBAR72 Digging Bar 72 x 1 Inch 17 lb
Price: £35.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Simple but effective, 17 Aug. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having first used a digging bar when on a 6 month Land Operations course with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, I didn't think I would ever need to buy one for myself. However, not long after came the day when I decided that I wanted to plant a small orchard and protect it with deer fencing. At that point, I bought one of these Faithful 72" digging bars. It soon proved its worth. And then, my parents wanted a new rotary dryer installed, and the spear from their old one removed from the ground. I suspect the soil under their lawn had not been broken up since their house was build back in the 1930's (I think).Taking the top 8 inches off with a shovel wasn't too bad. But the earth was so compressed, that getting any deeper to get the spear out required my new Faithful digging bar. A brilliant tool that got the spear out in no time at all.

There is a technique to using a digging bar (thank you, Geoff at BTCV for teaching me it!). But once you know how to use it effectively, this simple tool is a godsend.

Highly recommended.

Brabantia Topspinner Rotary Clothes Dryer with 45 mm Metal Ground Spike - 40 m
Brabantia Topspinner Rotary Clothes Dryer with 45 mm Metal Ground Spike - 40 m
Price: £60.75

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Watch out for quite how tall this is, 17 Aug. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This Brabantia rotary dryer is fine once it is in place, with one exception - it is unexpectedly high. My fault, I guess, for not reading all the way to the bottom of the details and seeing the height. Unfortunately, I had bought it for my elderly parents, who simply cannot reach to use it. At two metres high, it towers over them both.

The other negative, is that the design of the spear used for providing a stable foundation in the ground is such that getting it into the ground exactly vertical is difficult. Even equipped with my trusty spirit level (which I normally use for fence posts), I failed to get this as close to vertical as I wanted at the first couple of attempts (and you really don't want to know who much effort goes into digging it out again if you are not happy with your attempt at putting it in).

But, other than the height, and difficulty of getting the spear in at the right angle, this is a good dryer. Having realised that it is too tall for my parents, it has been dug up again and is now in my back garden. I'm 5'9" and it's too tall for me really, but I'll cope.

Recommended, but only for those 6 feet tall.

by Michael Morpurgo
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, well read, topical story., 17 Aug. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Shadow (Audio CD)
I bought the audio CD format of "Shadow" so that I could listen to it whilst driving.

Just 3 CDs in length, it's a manageable length. Well read, in a Manchester accent, it kept my interest throughout. Note that the title and the image on the cover are a little misleading - whilst the dog "Shadow" is entwined with the story of Aman, the main (human) character, this is Aman's story, not Shadow's. If you are looking for a book about a dog, try the brilliant "A Dog's Purpose: A novel for humans".

This is the story of Aman and his mother, both Afghan refugees, how they came to arrive in the UK and the fight to allow them to stay. It's believable, topical, and fairly gritty. It certainly kept me interested, and it does work your emotions. However, I did also find it predictable, particularly towards the end (although I do tend to be pretty good at predicting endings, so it may not be obvious to everybody).

I'm not sure what age group this is intended for, but it could be very good for starting discussions about many topical issues with children, probably from early secondary school age.

This is the first book by Michael Morpurgo that I have listened to. I don't think it will be the last.


The NLP Workbook: Teach Yourself
The NLP Workbook: Teach Yourself
by Judy Bartkowiak
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If you are already persuaded by NLP, maybe, but not for me, 28 July 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had heard talk of NLP and seen lots of references to it in Adult Education Class brochures etc. I'd never got around to really finding out about it until now. This workbook is the first thing I have read about it. It's possible that a book about NLP rather than a workbook would have been a better starting point, but c'est la vie. I have not worked through this end-to-end in a short period of time, instead opening it up again when I have some spare time and working through the next few exercises. That I have done this surprises even me, as the writing style and pseudo-science is really not for me.

This book ("The Neuro-linguistic programming workbook") does contain some thought provoking material. However, the terminology ("meta-programme"), the simplistic analysis ("Find out from this questionnaire whether you are internally or externally referenced"), the references to third-parties that suggest peer-reviewed, academic research, distract attention away from what could be a useful line of thought. Other parts of the content really require somebody to discuss the material with in order to have value - "Complete the following sentences to help you discover your beliefs and values". The reader can complete the sentences, but without somebody to question and discuss the answers, where is the value? "Are there any surprises here?" - I rather doubt it. As for "Now make the sound `swish'" - really?

Whether or not NLP contains useful stuff, the way this workbook presents the material (I don't know if this is typical of NLP) really does not work for me. It may for others, but not for me. Perhaps if used in a workshop environment, rather than reading it independently.

Investing in Shares For Dummies
Investing in Shares For Dummies
by David Stevenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good introductory text, with some useful references, 28 July 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Writing a book about investing in shares is always going to be difficult, since readers are likely to have very different levels of existing experience, in investing, accounting, maths, business, risk analysis etc. One might say that the "For Dummies" range is for people without experience, but actually many books in the range are useful even for those with good existing knowledge.

I read "Investing in Shares for Dummies", despite having been investing for quite some years already. I figure reading more about the subject can't hurt (although it could possibly result in analysis-paralysis, where you end up considering so many different opinions/viewpoints that you actually never buy anything). Actually, I'm more concerned that people new to investing read a book and then think they can invest successfully, but that's a wider issue, rather than being about this book in particular.

As a beginner's guide, this is actually not bad, but in 346 pages (including appendices, index etc) it is never going to go into huge depth (if it did, most people wouldn't read it!). What it does do though, is to give the reader greater confidence with regards investing, hopefully motivating the reader to follow up some of the references to other materials, but doing so with enough information to make decisions that are sensible for them. I tend to think that a book like this, followed by a year or two subscribing to a magazine such as Moneyweek, would give time for ideas to be really understood before risking money in the markets. Possibly joining an investing/shares club may be useful, although that really depends on who else is in the club of course.

So, a good introductory book, with some useful snippets even for more experienced investors. Recommended, but with the caution that not everybody reading a book such as this will be successful in investing afterwards!

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